You know what Alfred Hitchcock did wrong? not enough comedy. Danny DeVito realized this in 1987 when he made Throw Momma from the Train in the image of Strangers on a Train and stacked his own comedy style up against Billy Crystal’s. Now we’re going back to the same well with Horrible Bosses. And contrary to the normal use of that metaphor, there’s still a fair bit of water left to draw up. A warning in advance: the review would lose a lot without some language, so if you’re easily offended… well you wouldn’t like the movie in the first place.
Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), Dale Arbus (Charlie Day), and Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) are three friends with one problem: their bosses. The president of Nick’s financial services firm, Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey), is a — and I’m going to quote here — Total Fucking Asshole who’s been dangling a vice presidency in front of Nick’s face just to yank it away at the last second, but only before making Nick do a little dance first. Dale is a dental hygienist working with Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), who is an Evil Crazy Bitch who evidently finds the phrase “hostile work environment” an aphrodisiac. Kurt actually likes his boss (a cameo by Donald Sutherland) until he has a heart attack and leaves a company responsible for manufacturing dangerous chemicals in the hands of his Dipshit Cokehead Son Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell).
But the job market being what it is — their Yale-educated formerly-hedge-fund-managing friend is doing unspeakable things in the bathroom for $40 a pop — they aren’t in any position to quit. Clearly, it’s the bosses who have to go. And so they enlist the services of Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) as their “murder consultant”, who suggests that to disguise their motives each one should take out another’s boss. The key element from Hitchcock and DeVito comes forth, but now complicated by a three-way arrangement: Criss-Cross-Crass.
Now this could have been handled really awkwardly. Two moving parts already seems beyond the grasp of many writers and directors, let alone three. And yet Seth Gordon blends everything together very smoothly. It might have something to do with cutting his eyeteeth directing episodes of great ensemble sitcoms like Parks and Recreation, Community, and The Office, where balancing multiple storylines and multiple stars is essential.
Speaking of which, each of the three leads comes through with their own characteristic style. Day — primarily known for his role on the DeVito-driven It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — has his own manic energy. Bateman keeps the same last-sane-man calm he’s had since before Arrested Development. And Sudeikis has some of the crassness on display in Hall Pass, but it’s always kept in check. Instead he gets to trade it off with his great comedic banter, in particular his chemistry with Day as last seen in Going the Distance. But it’s not just seeing each of the three styles on display; it’s how they interact with each other so well. That’s where Gordon’s direction really shines.
For their parts, the bosses are great, too. They all throw themselves eagerly into their roles. Normally eye-candy, Farrell makes the most of a truly terrible comb-over. Anniston is just as much eye-candy as ever, but she’s rarely so overt or mean about it as she is here. And Spacey absolutely nails the overdriven, high-powered corporate asshole. But then he had Casino Jack as prep work.
But as much fun as it is to live out revenge fantasies vicariously through these hapless heroes, it’s probably not best to emulate them. After all, as bad as your boss is, he could be the only thing standing between you and a Twisted Old Fuck.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.